Regarding the Rangers, still first in the Metro but probably far from first in your heart these days.
1. If the combination of three goals on 83 shots strikes a chord in your memory palace, that should, for that matter, represent Rick Nash’s stat line for the 2015 playoffs in which the 3.6 shooting percentage of the Big 61 was the lowest in NHL playoff history for forwards with at least 80 shots on goal.
The circumstances aren’t as urgent and the consequences aren’t as dire, but nine years later, Alexis Lafrenière entered Tuesday’s game in San Jose having scored three goals on 83 shots in his previous 29 games before come out of the 3-2 overtime defeat with three goals. on 84 shots in his previous 30 games.
This is not an attempt to make Lafreniere a scapegoat for the Rangers’ 3-5-2, 5-7-2 and 11-11-2 which is sinking into mediocrity and worse. But when a team gets virtually no production from the bottom six that has been compromised since Filip Chytil left the lineup on Nov. 2, the onus is on its top six to take advantage of its opportunities.
But even while generating offense by getting the third-most five-on-five minutes for the club behind teammates Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck, Lafrenière’s finishing touch evaporated. Additionally, those 84 shots came on 153 attempts, with 30 of them blocked and another 39 missing completely.
Lafreniere (11-16-27) was one of the few players to exceed expectations for this 29-15-3 club entering the back-to-back weekend – at home Friday against Vegas, at Ottawa Saturday – preceding a desperately needed period of time off/All-Star break. Panarin, Trocheck, Will Cuylle, Jonathan Quick and Erik Gustafsson make up the rest of this exclusive group.
But Lafrenière, denied in Los Angeles by goaltender David Rittich with 1:24 remaining in the third period of a one-goal game last Saturday as if it were Nash being opposed by Jonathan Quick 10 years earlier, a 9.2 shooting percentage for the season, well below the career 15.1 percent the winger brought into the season.
Some can be attributed to bad luck on a fairly small sample. But Rangers need their putative goalscorers to be able to capitalize on their chances. Hockey people like to say they worry when opportunities dry up. But I always worry when a player can’t score.
2. When Chytil is cleared to return to active duty – barring setbacks, the second week of February seems a reasonable target date – general manager Chris Drury will face an immediate personnel decision, unless the hierarchy chooses to opting for a 23-man roster which would limit cap space.
Assuming good health, the appeal appears to place either Jonny Brodzinski or Tyler Pitlick on waivers. Brodzinski has added the important element of speed in the middle to the equation over the last two games after being moved from the wing by head coach Peter Laviolette, but it is highly unlikely that Brodzinski will remain at center at return of Chytil.
Indeed, it is likely that Barclay Goodrow or Nick Bonino would center the fourth line while Brodzinski would return to the wing or perhaps to the Wolf Pack. But there’s this: Brodzinski would likely become one of Chicago’s top six. Other clubs could pick him off the waiver wire. The Blueshirts may not want to take any risks, even if Jonny Blueshirt becomes a regular scratch.
Meanwhile, Pitlick has been sidelined in six of seven games since being scratched by a lower-body injury that sidelined No. 71 for four games. There is less risk of Pitlick being selected on waivers, but if he were to be, then the next guy on the wing would be Anton Blidh or Riley Nash.
The other option that is certainly anathema to Drury, Laviolette and the staff would be to place Nick Bonino on waivers. Bonino – who centered Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey on the line for three of the trip’s four games – had eight goals scored and 20 blocked for a 28.57 goal percentage. He is the sixth-worst forward in the NHL with at least 400 minutes played at five-on-five. Bonino’s expected goal share of 38.08 percent is fourth-worst in the league among 400-minute qualifiers.
3. The problem with producing a power play unit, even one as accomplished as the Rangers’, was exposed during this final stretch, where the team’s powerful unit was kept out on three of the last seven games and seven of the last 14. after being hidden in just one of the previous 12 and seven of the previous 33.
The Blueshirts are 1-4-2 in the last seven games in which they have been shut out on the man advantage. Five on five counts.
4. The Blueshirts have summoned Jake Leschyshyn from the Wolf Pack, indicating something is wrong with at least one of their forwards. Leschyshyn played 6:28 for the Rangers in St. Louis on Jan. 11 and was left out of the next game at Washington during a previous stint on the roster.